7 things an NBA coach can teach a young manager

Game 7 of a widely contested series. The shot clock is at 20 seconds and it’s a 1 point game. The team’s superstar is dribbling the clock away at the top of the key, waiting just long enough before making his move to be sure that he takes the game’s final shot. The crowd is going crazy in the background. The outcome will determine whether his team’s season ends here or whether they advance to the next round of the playoffs. This is what it’s all about. These are the moments that matter. These are the moments that make up a player’s legacy and that he will play back in his mind time and time again if it goes wrong. What will he do? Will he take the team on his back and force the issue in typical hero-ball fashion?  Or will he run a play and make his team’s chances increase by sharing the burden?

Basketball is a game of speed, a game of flashy dunks, incredible feats of athletic explosion and impossible shots that leave us in complete awe and disbelief. For the average fan, that’s the extent of the fascination with this sport. They love watching these incredibly tall players jump through the roof. And yet it’s so much more than that. It’s a case study of how teams work, of how a team is more than the sum of its parts. It’s a display of teammates who trust and those who don’t, a display of discipline and the consequences of faltering. It is a very useful source of examples for a manager to use when teaching and coaching his team. Everybody can relate to sports, everybody can empathize with superstars performing on the big stage for everybody to dissect and comment on.

And hence the question, what are the 7 things an NBA coach could teach a young manager? What are the 7 main things he can provide anecdotes for in order to inspire and guide a group of people?

Compared to other team sports like football where teams have 11 players on the field, each one of the 5 players of a basketball team is equally important. There really is nowhere to hide on a basketball court. As competition gets tougher and tougher, the weak links of a team will be exposed, whether they be individual player’s deficiencies or team deficiencies. Especially in the playoffs with its “best of 7” rounds, the opposing team will eventually zero in on what it is that you or your team don’t do well. It’s a game of match ups and a game of adjustments. How do you match up with your direct competitor and how do you adjust when that match up is not in your favour?

For the same reason that it is difficult to hide on a 5-man team, it is also easy to stand out on a 5-man team. In contrast to other sports with bigger teams, superstars can dominate a game of basketball much more easily. It is a common adage that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Whereas I believe this is true for the first rounds of the playoffs where weaker teams are still to be dispatched, I’ve always preferred to believe that at some point these teams relying heavily on individual performances run into a cohesive team that takes advantage of this and completely dismantles them.

Examples of this are the 2011 Finals between a freshly assembled Miami Heat squad before they learned to play together and an incredibly cohesive Dallas Mavericks unit. The year after, this same Miami Heat team had grown into a better team and eventually runs into an OKC Thunder team that still has to come together in the same way. Seeing how the OKC Thunder are playing this year, relying entirely on their 2 main guys to do everything, shows how difficult it is to grow. The really exceptional Finals are those like last year (2013) where two incredible teams meet each other on the biggest stage (San Antonio Spurs vs Miami Heat).

So without further ado, what are the top 7 things that an NBA coach can teach a manager?

  1. Trust

In order for a team to flourish, players must learn to trust each other. Both in situations on the offensive and the defensive side of the ball trust is of vital importance. Especially on the defensive side, teams don’t come very far if they don’t trust their teammates. The most prevalent defensive system is a man-to-man system where each player is assigned an attacker to defend. This system inevitably relies on players rotating over to help their teammates when they get beat.

This means leaving behind their assignment to help out, knowing they can trust their teammates to do the same for them. A team needs to play as if attached on a string on the defensive end. Smooth rotations with early anticipation and second and third efforts are the hallmark of a team where players trust their teammates to have their back. A well-coached team has learned to trust each other during the long season when errors are less costly. Trust is built up day after day so that when the playoffs come and the pressure mounts, the team doesn’t crumble.

  1. Discipline

Each player on a team has a role to play, everybody has a job to do. Before the game, the coach explains the game plan and expects his players to execute that game plan. It is important that players stick to the plan and have the necessary discipline to avoid silly mistakes. Whether it is staying down on pump-fakes, not gambling for steals on the perimeter or not doubling when you’re one pass away, these mistakes happen in the heat of the moment when you have only a split second to react. Avoiding these mistakes requires discipline. It is the same discipline that a manager requires to always be professional and do what the company requires him to do. Discipline is probably the toughest part to learn in a management job

  1. Work ethic

An NBA team generally consists of players with a wide range of ages. Each year the team absorbs a new set of rookies that it has a chance to turn into the next superstars of the league. One of the main thing these younger players learn from their veterans and coaches is work ethic. Only those that adopt a healthy work ethic will succeed in the league. Whether it concerns practice, learning new skills, nutrition or taking care of their bodies, it quickly becomes clear what players have what it takes to become that special player that will dominate the league for years on end. In this respect the older players generally serve as an extension of the coaching staff, providing an example for the younger players to follow.

  1. Communication

The best defenses in the league have a big man in the middle serving as the last line of defense, guarding the basket. This player usually cleans up a lot of the breakdowns and mistakes of the perimeter players. One of his main roles is to take care of the communication, barking out orders to the players on the perimeter, warning them for picks, guiding them so they can lead the attacker into the defense. Consistently, the teams with the better communication is the team playing better defense. When should players switch when guarding pick-and-rolls? Who is guarding who? The team that has the most communication breakdowns usually ends up giving up the most easy baskets, with two players often trailing the same player or guarding a piece of empty space. So much time is lost if the communication is not up to snuff.

  1. Consistency

There are only a handful of superstar players in the league. Not because there is a lack of talent but because too many players fail to display their talents with any consistency. Only those few players that consistently bring the same effort and heart to the games day in and day out, will reach a superstar level. Not to mention, only those players that show the same consistent effort on both the offensive and the defensive end of the floor will get a chance to play from the coach. Consistency is rewarded while lack of consistency leads to untimely lackluster performances and much less success.

  1. Sharing

In basketball there is only 1 ball and it is meant to be shared. Not even the most dominant player in the game can win it all on his own. The most beautiful and successful offenses share the ball with quick and on-point passes zipping around the perimeter, down to the post and back. Sharing is often easy when there is no pressure and you’re out in front. However, once you’re falling behind and things are getting tight, teams have a tendency to revert to hero ball where one player tries to do it all on his own. As in the scenario described at the top of this article, once there is only one shot left and the entire season is on the line, you will learn the make-up of your superstar and your team.

  1. Leadership

This is obviously the big one. Coaches generally don’t treat all players the same way. It is clear who are the superstars and who are the role players on a team. The teams that do well have the right superstars that can serve as an extension of the coaching staff. They provide the leadership on the floor and in the locker room. They police what goes on and shape the culture of the team to a large degree. Young and immature superstars will generally lead a team down the wrong path. In some cases, superstars will defer leadership roles to more vocal and respected veterans in the group. They take younger players under their wings and teach them how to succeed in the league. Only if you have the right leadership in your team, will you have any success.

The seconds are ticking away when your superstar finally decides to set things in motion. So how well have you prepared your team for this moment? Will he drive in, going 1-on-5 and take an impossible shot over the outstretched arms of two or three defenders? Will your team generate enough motion by running a disciplined play with two or three options to create an open shot? Will your superstar trust the open shooter and share the ball, setting him up for success? Lets tune in for your teams final shot to succeed!

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks